Lakeshore Logbook – Daniel Blankenship

Daniel Blankenship
Daniel Blankenship

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 18th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Daniel Blankenship worked in the park from 2008 to 2014. He worked for the interpretive division of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Over the summers at the park he was stationed at Stockton Island where he presented formal programs, provided guided activities, managed the marina/campground, and led kayaking tours around the island. Daniel also worked at Raspberry Island where he gave tours and at Little Sand Bay/Meyers Beach where he assisted with monitoring kayaker safety.


What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job? 
I got to lead kayaking trips around Stockton Island, and worked with visitors to teach people how to roll their kayaks in Presque Isle Bay.

Dan (in the blue kayak) with a group of paddlers at the mainland sea caves
Dan (in the blue kayak) with a group of paddlers at the mainland sea caves

What is the most fun experience you had in the park? 
The most fun I had while working involved my days out on Stockton Island.  My typical day was full of entertainment because of the wonderful park visitors we had returning year after year.  I would get to know the families on a personal level and it was thrilling to greet them summer after summer.

Dan doing a campfire program at the Stockton Island campfire circle
Dan using a bow drill to start his campfire for an evening programDan doing a campfire program at the Stockton Island campfire circle

I would check in with them, go for hikes with them, engage them with evening programs, and lastly -my favorite- I would go kayaking with them around the tombolo of Stockton to the sea caves and various beaches. 

Dan building a fire for his evening program at Stockton Island
Dan building a fire for his evening program at Stockton Island

I remember one summer the winter storms had uncovered the Noquebay shipwreck in Julian Bay.  I would lead people to the wreckage, out to where we would swim and snorkel to see the donkey boiler and other parts of the ship emerge from the sands. It was a wonderful job.

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park. 
I remember being involved with so many boating emergencies or disasters. I remember a sailboat getting stuck outside of the marina because a rope was thrown and got sucked into the prop. In a summer storm, a yacht anchored out in Julian Bay got washed ashore. But some of the most memorable (and worst memories) are associated with the knot that would develop in my gut after I would hear the park’s dispatcher radio that there was a kayaker missing.  Lake Superior is an incredible force; especially when the summer storms rip over and around the Bayfield Peninsula.  

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 
On one of my last years working at the park before I moved on to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I remember paddling from Presque Isle Ranger Station to Quarry Bay. I was paddling to the bay with a  group of campers that brought their own kayaks. There were these rolling slow waves rocking me and setting the pace for a relaxed afternoon.  As I pulled myself along we were having casual conversations and I was answering questions about the islands.  I don’t believe I was the first person to see it.  I think it was a visitor that said, “What is that in the water over there?” 

Before I saw what they were talking about I heard it.

Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff.

Then I finally saw a shape materialize out of the swells. I stopped for the longest time, squinting and staring. What is that?

As soon as I realized what the shape was it made sense.  A black bear swimming between islands. It paid no mind to us but was leaving Stockton Island and making it’s why south toward Madeline Island.

A bear swimming to Oak Island

In my head I felt like it was really close, but in reality the bear was pretty far away. The noise of its breathing was being carried across the open water.  It was such an amazing experience to see and hear. After it became a black speck on the verge of disappearing we could still hear the huffing and puffing of its panting over the silence of the lake.

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. 
There are too many to count. In reflecting upon experiences among the islands, I deeply appreciate every moment I got the privilege to work there. I think the coolest thing I got to do FOR the park was art.  I painted a Greco-roman frieze of fish species of lake superior that was hung over a fishery display and I did some drawings that were incorporated in the Junior Ranger booklet.  

Large Mouth Bass
Large Mouth Bass

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
The story that I tell the most would have to be leading a 7 day kayaking tour among the islands for a kayaking outfitter.  On Day 6, late in the day it was forecast to be rough waters and strong winds but early in the day it was supposed to be clear weather – or so said the weather radio.  We ate lunch at the northern side of Basswood Island and after lunch we started a crossing to the southern tip of Oak Island.  I was not the lead kayaker for the day so I was hanging back and “corralling” kayakers, keeping them in a group as we made the crossing. Over halfway to Oak Island, there was some commotion among the kayakers. Looking to the northwest we could see white-caps coming towards us down the north channel, the strong winds were coming much earlier than forecasted – evidence of Lake Superior’s unpredictability. As the waves hit our group, everyone was immediately unnerved.

The Libra XT kayaks are tandem boats that are wide and stable.  With the whitecaps hitting the tandem boats there was never a doubt that the boats were sound and wouldn’t flip – which they didn’t. But the bow of the boats are designed to be high for cresting through the waves. However, this high bow design was catching the wind and fighting our patrons’ ability to steer. Immediately, the other guides and me went to work keeping the group together to continue the crossing.

At one point I hear over the wind and the waves, “Daniel, they are getting away!  Get them!”

Two teenagers had insisted all trip to paddle together. Every day of the trip, “Can we paddle together?” And every day their request to paddle together was denied. However, today it was granted for the calm morning and early afternoon portion of our trip. But now, with the sudden and changed conditions, the two were being pushed off course from our intended landing point. The winds turned their boat downwind and wasn’t allowing them to correct their course; they couldn’t remain aimed north to Oak Island.  I knew what I had to do.

Like some kind of sheep dog in a boat, I sprinted through the waves, surfing my kayak, and caught up to the teenagers that were leaving the flock. I got in front of them and pulled up to the bow of their boat, leaned into it to form a “T” and immediately clipped in my tow belt.  I was out of breathe from sprinting in my kayak.

“Ya’ll,” huff huff, “alright?”

“Yeah. What do we do, the rudders not working.”

“The rudder,” huff puff, “…will only work if you are going…” huff, “…going forward. I’m going…” swallow, “…going to help.”

I then described to them that I was going to use the tow belt to help correct their course and pull them so that they are facing into the wind to get them back to the group. Towing a kayak can be tricky though, especially as a guide.  You want to assist the other boat but you don’t want to tow them completely on your own.  If you do try to muscle both boats, you can exhaust yourself in no time. And if you are exhausted, you won’t be any assistance at all and will only endanger yourself and your patrons.

“This…  huff huff …Isn’t a free ride.  I need both of you… …to paddle forwards.  Ok?”

They stared blankly at me.

“I can’t paddle both our boats.  So I need you to paddle.”

Still no head nods or any gesture that would lead me to believe that they understood what I was trying to convey to them.  One more time louder?

“I need you to paddle forwar… NOT NOW!”  Immediately, the teenager in the front of the boat took a strong paddle stroke forward just as a wave was crashing into the stern of their big kayak. The mixture of the paddle stroke and the wave pushed the bow of their kayak into my ribs and proceeded to push me over. The momentum of their kayak sat their boat on top of mine pinning me upside down in the water.

It felt like forever that I was upside down, but in reality it was only moments.  In my head I was thinking, ‘Am I really going to have to wet exit?” – a maneuver for getting out of the kayak by pulling the skirt off the cockpit and sliding out of it like taking off a pair of pants. But then, from a perspective of being upside down, looking at their boat’s bow seated on the bottom of my kayak, approximately where my butt was, I could see their paddles flashing in the water. They were making reverse strokes and they were pulling themselves off my kayak!

‘Thank you teenagers!’ I rolled up to one side, set up my paddle, hip snapped, rolled the kayak and popped up out of the water gasping for air.  I was only under the water for seconds, but in that time apparently there was emotional devastation.

The other guides of the trip and myself had spent days telling all of our patrons that Lake Superior is a body of water to be respected.  We needed to be careful and stay as a group. If conditions and circumstances popped up, we were to handle everything as a group. Lake Superior could have deadly consequences to those that didn’t respect it. Lake Superior is deadly. We had hammered these messages into our visitors so that they would be cautious while on the water.  We hammered into them these messages so well that for two teenagers, the sight of their boat tipping me over and then pinning me underwater there was only one revelation…

“WE THOUGHT WE KILLED YOU!”  Screamed the teenager in the front of the boat. They both were crying and sobbing hysterically.

I thought about their shouted words a lot throughout the summers. It started as I paddled them back to the flock of boats where they were welcomed.  “We thought we killed you,” seemed to be a very escalated response to something that happened so fast.  Almost comical. But I thought about their words every trip that I took on the waters of Lake Superior after that because those words have a deeper meaning. Things can change so fast on Lake Superior. It was tens of minutes from beautiful weather to white caps. It was minutes from all of our boats being together to there being a straggler. And it was seconds between those teenagers thinking that they were being rescued to thinking that they had just accidentally killed their rescuer.

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 

I would go back to Stockton Island to see the ranger station. 

I would want to revisit the place I would sit and read all night long, the trails that I would jog on a daily basis, my favorite spot to enjoy Julian Bay Beach and the places I would dive off the rocks to go swimming in the cold water.  My memories of the summers among the islands play out like a film in my mind.

Warm days, fun adventures, work that felt more like fun than work are memories that are tied up in a mental narration that became my introduction to being a park ranger.

Dan working at the park's Apple Fest booth
Dan working at the park’s Applefest booth

We want to thank Dan for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

History Mystery: Who is considered the “father of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore?”

A Legacy of stewardship. 

Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin on June 4, 1919.  Nelson was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 1948 and held that office for a decade before becoming the Governor of the state. After two terms as Governor, he was elected to the US Senate in 1962 where he served until 1981. 

Gaylord Nelson
Gaylord Nelson

In 1969, then US Senator from Wisconsin, Nelson formulated one of the most powerful ideas of the century.  On April 22, 1970 the first Earth Day was a resounding success, celebrated by 20 million people across the US who came together in their communities to support the environment. The American Heritage Magazine called this first Earth Day “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.” Earth Day, now an annual international event, continues to inspire environmental movements around the globe.  

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” 

Gaylord Nelson on Stockton Island
Gaylord Nelson on Stockton Island

 Long before the idea of the first Earth Day, this tireless champion of the people and the environment, cultivated a dream to preserve the magical landscape of the Apostle Islands. He sought to safeguard the undeveloped shorelines, red sandstone cliffs, unique landforms, flora, and fauna of this special place.  

This love of the natural environment and concern for the wellness of all through conservation was well received in Washington. Both Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, and President John F. Kennedy recognized the value in developing a national recreation area in the Chequamegon Bay region and traveled to Ashland in 1963, flying over the Apostle Islands as part of a national conservation tour.

resident Kennedy and Gaylord Nelson (right side of photo) at the Ashland, Wisconsin airport in 1963
President Kennedy and Gaylord Nelson (right side of photo) at the Ashland, Wisconsin airport in 1963

Years of negotiation, compromise and collaboration came to fruition on September 26, 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The bill included 20 islands and a 12-mile strip of mainland containing the sea caves. 

 “This is a unique collection of islands…..there is not another collection of islands of this significance within the continental boundaries of the United States. I think it is tremendously important that this collection of islands be preserved.” 

gaylord nelson
Gaylord Nelson
Gaylord Nelson at Quarry Bay on Stockton Island in 2003

 Gaylord Nelson’s determined efforts to preserve this region cause many to consider him the “father of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore”.

NPS Midwest Regional Director William Schenk makes Gaylord Nelson an honorary park ranger in 2002
NPS Midwest Regional Director William Schenk makes Gaylord Nelson an honorary park ranger in 2002

On December 8, 2004, the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness was created as President George W. Bush signed legislation designating 80% of the land area of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore as Wilderness. 

Gaylord Nelson at book signing in 2004
Gaylord Nelson at book signing in 2004

The Apostle Islands are full of beauty, adventure, and wildlife; they also have a rich and varied history. This summer, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the park, we are exploring that history with a little help from some friends: large, nearly life-sized standing poster board images of lighthouse keepers and sailors and ship captains and island lovers and more. Each one will ask you a question, present a mystery of island history, and offer you a QR code to explore the answer.

So look for the cardboard cutouts popping up in local shops, on the ferry, in the parks, all over town, and when you find them, introduce yourself, look for the question, and explore the answer to one of the History Mysteries of the Apostle Islands. Then join us at Friendsoftheapostleislands.org to support the protection of the islands, their beauty, their adventure, their wildlife, and their history.

History Mystery: How did his support for the park cost Julian Nelson a job?

Julian Nelson was born in Bayfield in 1916.  His father moved to Bayfield from Bergen, Norway in 1897 and took a job with the Booth fish company.  He eventually became an independent commercial fisherman operating out of a fish camp in Julian Bay on Stockton Island.  

His sister watches Julian work on a gill net at his fish camp
His sister watches Julian work on a gill net at his fish camp

In 1938, at the age of 22, Julian bought out his father’s fishing business.  Julian bought property on Rocky Island in 1947 and moved his fishing cabin there from Stockton Island on a barge. 

Moving the Nelson cabin from Stockton to Rocky Island in 1947
Moving the Nelson cabin from Stockton to Rocky Island in 1947
Julian Nelson works on a gill net
Julian Nelson works on a gill net

 He continued working as a commercial fisherman until the 1960s when the fishery collapsed due to over-fishing and predation from sea lampreys.  

Julian Nelson works on a gill net in front of his cabin
Julian Nelson works on a gill net in front of his cabin

He then went to work on the Madeline Island Ferry. Julian operated ferry boats for eighteen years until he retired in 1980. 

In the mid-1960s Julian was also the mayor of Bayfield.  He recalled that… 

“I guess I became concerned about the use of natural resources back in the forties and fifties when I saw how that resource of all the fish in the lake was being mistreated. And that’s what really made me kinda think of what could happen to other resources that we have.  And when I saw how that fish was treated, I thought there’s some other resources that we need to maybe take a look at, and those resources were the islands, the lake and the landscape.  

So my decision was based on what would do the most good for the most number of people, and in either 1966 or 67 when the congressional hearings on the park were held in Ashland, I took the position to support the park.  It was not a popular position… and so the following election I was not elected back. But since then, I’m very comfortable with the position I took, and I grow more comfortable every day.“ 

Julian Nelson leaving the family cabin on Rocky Island in 2012
Julian Nelson leaving the family cabin on Rocky Island in 2012

 Julian was 100 years old when he passed away in 2017.


The Apostle Islands are full of beauty, adventure, and wildlife; they also have a rich and varied history. This summer, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the park, we are exploring that history with a little help from some friends: large, nearly life-sized standing poster board images of lighthouse keepers and sailors and ship captains and island lovers and more. Each one will ask you a question, present a mystery of island history, and offer you a QR code to explore the answer.

So look for the cardboard cutouts popping up in local shops, on the ferry, in the parks, all over town, and when you find them, introduce yourself, look for the question, and explore the answer to one of the History Mysteries of the Apostle Islands. Then join us at Friendsoftheapostleislands.org to support the protection of the islands, their beauty, their adventure, their wildlife, and their history.

This month: 50th Anniversary exhibit at Washburn Cultural Center

Visit the Washburn Cultural Center in June to explore and enjoy the intersection of art, poetry and science.

The “A is for Apostle Islands” and “Island Intersections” exhibit displays the poetry and visual artwork from two projects celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Original visual art and poetry for the ABCs featured in the forthcoming book, A is for Apostle Islands, edited by Lucy Tyrrell, will be displayed.

In addition the exhibit will include trios of “Island Intersections,” i.e. science summaries and the interpretations or responses of visual art and poetry that emerged from 15 science presentations at the Apostle Islands 50th Anniversary Resource Stewardship Symposium held March 30-31 and available online on the Friends website. Dozens of artists and poets have collaborated and contributed to this exhibit.

The exhibit runs June 2- 30, 2021, 12–5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Get more information here.

Buy and fly a 50th Anniversary burgee!

For the sailor, boater or paddler in your life, we’re excited to offer burgees featuring the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore 50th Anniversary logo… flying the flag on your boat or anywhere else you like is a great way to show your love of the islands. Get them while they last, online or in person at Keeper of the Light in Bayfield. Proceeds benefit the park we love.

50th Anniversary Burgee

These limited edition burgees are 12 by 18 inches. The official 50th Anniversary logo is printed on both sides, with a white cloth liner sandwiched between the outer layers to improve visibility. The burgees are made of 90 GSM flag cloth and include metal grommets. They feature black piping around the outer edge.They are designed to be flown from sailboats, powerboats and anywhere else you like.

$40 plus shipping and handling or available at Keeper of the Light, 19 Front St, Bayfield, WI 54814.

Lakeshore Logbook – Jerry Banta

Jerry Banta
The photo of Jerry we printed in the park newspaper when he got the job.

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 18th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Jerry Banta served as Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent for 12 years.

POSITIONS AND HISTORY

I served as superintendent from 1987 until 1999.  Prior to that time I had ranger positions at Pinnacles National Monument; Glacier, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks;  and Colorado National Monument; and Superintendent positions at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, and Scotts Bluff and Agate Fossil Beds National Monuments. 

Jerry and Don Castleberry, NPS Midwest Regional Director
Jerry and Don Castleberry, NPS Midwest Regional Director.

MOST MEMORABLE APOSTLE ISLANDS EXPERIENCES

People often ask me which of the parks where I worked was my favorite.  I always tell them that I loved all of them; but, like almost any other job, the thing that made a place special was the group of people you worked with.  In that regard none exceeded the Lakeshore.  I was surrounded by a caring and highly professional work force who made it a joy to come to work every day.  (Well, almost every day.)  Additionally, we enjoyed greatly Bayfield and the other communities around the bay, and we still have may friends in those areas.

A staff photo from 1988, Jerry's first full year in the park
A staff photo from 1988, Jerry’s first full year in the park.

Of course, it was a great experience to get out into the Park.  All of it was special, and as almost everyone else did, I usually stopped by Raspberry Light Station to enjoy one of Susan Nelson’s fresh baked cookies.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse
Raspberry Island Lighthouse

My predecessor, Pat Miller, had built very strong political support at the State and National levels across both political parties.  It was a great pleasure to be invited, about twice a year, to be invited to join Gaylord Nelson and the state and federal representatives and senators of Wisconsin to Beaver Lake for a pontoon visit and dinner.  Those were memorable evenings.

Gaylord Nelson visiting with a group of students during a visit to Quarry Bay on Stockton Island
Gaylord Nelson visiting with a group of students during a visit to Quarry Bay on Stockton Island.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

During my time at the Lakeshore we were able to complete the first General Management Plan for the Park, and to initiate the political and planning process for the Wilderness Study which eventually led to the establishment of the wilderness unit honoring Gaylord Nelson, the father of the American Wilderness System.

Jerry speaking at the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment in 1989.
Jerry speaking at the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment in 1989.

MOST SHARED STORY

At some point I had to leave to fly to Washington for a meeting during an ongoing search in the Lakeshore for a long overdue Kayaker. I changed into my meeting clothes and headed up highway 13 to the Duluth Airport. As I neared the Meyers Beach area the missing Kayaker staggered out of the woods and into the roadway.  After determining that he was okay, I told him, “We have been looking all over for you.”  He replied, “I’ve been looking for you, too.  Although I didn’t expect you to be so well dressed.”

Sea kayaker at Meyers Beach
Sea kayaker at Meyers Beach.

After leaving the Lakeshore Jerry was assigned as Superintendent of the Southeast Utah group of parks until he retired in 2004. We want to thank him for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

June 10th solar eclipse: what you’ll see from the Apostle Islands

Remember wearing those funky glasses to view the total solar eclipse of 2017?

If you still have them, they may be useful on Thursday, June 10th, 2021. Assuming we get clear skies, here’s what you’ll see, and when, from Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. One hint: plan on getting up early.

The good news is that we will be able to see some of the eclipse from the Apostle Islands. The bad news is that from our vantage point, the best part of the eclipse will happen around 20 minutes before sunrise. Our neighbors in eastern Canada will get to see the most spectacular part.

Watching the 2017 eclipse – Pixabay

During this eclipse, the moon is farther away from the earth than it was for the total eclipse of 2017. This means the moon won’t completely block out the sun. Instead, it will block only the center of the sun, revealing the annulus, a bright ring of light all around the rim. That’s why this eclipse is called an annular or partial eclipse.

Eclipse-tracking website eclipse2024.org says the eclipse will be at its maximum, at 4:51 in the morning in Bayfield. Unfortunately, this is 18 minutes before sunrise so we won’t see it.

The sun rises at 5:09 a.m. in Bayfield. At that point, you will be able to see the last phases of the eclipse happen over the next 40 minutes or so. Click the slideshow to see the progression. Keep in mind that you will need an unobstructed view of the sunrise, looking northeast over the lake. Viewed from Bayfield, Madeline Island will block the view during the critical first minutes of sunrise. If an island obscures the horizon, viewing the eclipse from the top of the hill or other high-elevation spots will be better than viewing it from lake level.

Timeanddate.com says these are the key times:

3:58 a.m. Eclipse begins
5:09 a.m. Sunrise
5:12:49 a.m. Maximum visible eclipse
5:48:10 a.m. Eclipse ends

One important technical note, when the sun is at the horizon, you may see it slightly sooner than the math in these diagrams would suggest. That’s because of refraction, or the bending of light as it cuts through the atmosphere.

If you are going to try to see this eclipse, or photograph it, please be aware that special eclipse glasses or eclipse-specific lens filters are required to look directly at it safely. Please do NOT look at the sun or the eclipse with your naked eyes, or through an unfiltered camera lens, as doing so can damage your sight. Regular sunglasses are also not safe. If you do get good photos, please share them to the Friends Facebook page.

To learn more about the upcoming annular eclipse, including how to make a pinhole projector to view it safely, visit NASA’s website. You can look up what the eclipse will look like at other specific locations here and here.

And if you’re an eclipse super fan, mark Monday, April 8, 2024 in your planner. That’s the date of the next total solar eclipse which will be visible over parts of North America.

2017 solar eclipse photo courtesy Pixabay


Jon Okerstrom
Jon Okerstrom

Jon Okerstrom is a Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member and digital and social media volunteer with a background in digital and television journalism, photography and graphic design.

Scientists discover tiny new species on Outer Island

You’ll never see it without a microscope but a newly-documented species calls Outer Island home. And it’s named for a retired water quality specialist from the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network division of the National Park Service.

We’re talking about a microscopic species of algae, Semiorbis eliasiae, named after Joan Elias, of the Great Lakes Network. These diatoms have ornate cell walls made of opaline silica, or biologically-produced glass. When the diatoms die, these skeleton-like fragments settle to the bottom of shallow lagoons, including a lagoon on Outer Island, in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Diatom
Live diatom colony – images courtesy Mark Edlund, St. Croix Watershed Research Station

Aquatic biology scientist Mark Edlund at the St. Croix Watershed Research Station identified the new diatoms, found in a sediment core collected in 2007 from the Outer Island lagoon. 

Joan Elias, for whom the diatoms are named, later collected live samples from the lagoon in 2011. That’s according to a scientific journal article documenting the discovery, published in March of this year.

To determine that this is indeed a new species, scientists compared the diatoms discovered on Outer Island with other diatoms found in Florida, New Jersey, Norway and Canada.

In the NPS newsletter, The Current, Edlund said, “The genus Semiorbis is really uncommon. I’ve been collecting diatoms since 1987 and have only found it twice. Outer Island is one of those places.”

Outer Island – Jeff Rennicke photo

A core sample taken from Outer Island indicates that Semiorbis eliasiae lived in the lagoon as early as the 1950s. The future of these rare diatoms is uncertain, given the ever-changing size and shape of the lagoon and Lake Superior’s impact on it. A large storm opened the lagoon to the lake in September of 2014. By July of 2020, a smaller lagoon was re-isolated from the lake as the sand barrier reformed. As of May, 2021 there are two lagoons cut off from the lake.

Lagoon on the southwest end of Outer Island- Google Map image

The pandemic stopped diatom sampling in 2020. Scientists expect to resume collecting them this summer.

Samples of Semiorbis eliasiae are permanently preserved in diatom collections at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Canadian Museum of Nature.

You can read the scientific journal article documenting the discovery here.

Why it matters

Different algae species need different conditions of temperature, light, water acidity and oxygen levels to thrive and survive. Sediment samples taken from lakes and rivers can reveal how those populations have changed over hundreds of years. Scientists believe that knowing how these diatoms responded to environmental changes in the past may help them to predict how lakes will respond to future climate changes.

Prescribed pile burns scheduled for Raspberry and Michigan Islands during week of June 13th


The National Park Service says piles of accumulated wood debris at the Raspberry and Michigan Island light station cultural landscapes will be burned later this month.  

In a statement, the Park Service said, “Weather permitting, prescribed burning of these piles is scheduled during the week of June 13th with the assistance of the National Park Service’s Black Hills Fire Module.  Wind, humidity, smoke dispersion and surface moisture will be assessed before igniting any fires.  Please be aware that smoke may be visible.”

The Park Service said a 19-acre prescribed burn on the Highbush Unit, Stockton Island tombolo, was successfully completed on May 12th with the assistance of Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Menominee Indian Tribe, and U.S. Forest Service fire-fighters.

Read more about the recent prescribed burn here.

Watch a session on the use of fire in the Apostle Islands from the recent 50th Anniversary Resource Stewardship Symposium here.

Project update: accessible amphitheater construction nears completion Stockton Island

It’s almost done! National Park Service crews have been busy this spring, assembling and installing a brand new accessible amphitheater on Stockton Island, thanks in part to Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and collaborating donors and funding partners.

This new raised-deck amphitheater is being built near the Stockton island Visitor Center, on the same gentle hillside where aging benches and fire ring had been located. The site is near the Presque Isle Bay Dock and an accessible campsite, all of which are connected by a boardwalk.

Stockton Island Map
Stockton Island – NPS map

When completed, around July 4th, this project will enable visitors in wheelchairs, using walkers or with mobility issues to move from the dock or already accessible campsite up to the contact station and on to the raised-deck amphitheater.

Planners envision that the new amphitheater will be used by park visitors for campfire programs, by middle school students attending annual Island School educational programs, as well as for tribal gatherings, meetings of researchers and gatherings for other groups and individuals. In the Ojibwe language, the amphitheater is Maawanji’iding  (Place Where) Maawanji’odiwag (They come together.)

Workers at the Wickcraft Company in Madison, Wisconsin manufactured the support structure components last year. Installation, originally planned for last summer, was delayed by the pandemic. This spring, two park service boats, including a 47-foot landing craft, delivered the the high-strength structural steel components and treated lumber to Stockton Island.

On the island, National Park Service crews of 8 to 10 people assembled the galvanized steel support structure and decking of pre-cut southern yellow pine. Project manager Tommy Richardson says it was like putting together a challenging puzzle, working from very technical blueprints to keep everything level. He credits the team at Wickcraft who designed and pre-built every puzzle piece and the on-site installers for this engineering feat.

“It is everything we wanted and more. We are very pleased with how it went together, how it looks, and the process. I am proud of the team who worked on this so hard.”

Tommy Richardson, Marine and Grounds Supervisor

Click through the slideshow to see each stage of this important construction project.

  • Location of the amphitheater on Stockton Island (Courtsey Google Maps)
  • Amphitheater Welding
  • Amphitheater under construction
  • Lumber waiting to be installed
  • Wooden decking
  • Jeff Rennicke views the amphitheater
  • Friends Board Member Bob Jauch
  • Artist's rendering of what the new amphitheater might look like
  • Existing boardwalk
  • Boardwalk to the new amphitheater
  • At times, the amphitheater can become a muddy mess. This project solves that challenge.

The next construction tasks include installing a safety railing and ramp rails, a fire pit and ring, 19 ABA and ADA accessible recycled plastic benches and possibly picnic tables. Trees will also be planted to create a natural buffer between the amphitheater and the nearby ranger residence.

This much-needed project fits within the Friends core commitment to removing barriers for people of all abilities to explore the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It is the first of several big projects planned according to the Park’s 2012 Accessibility Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan. 

Park Superintendent Lynne Dominy said, “This amphitheater now enables school groups, camping groups, and other boating groups to have a fully accessible seating and meeting area near the dock on Stockton. This is a great example of what can be accomplished when partners like FAINL write grants and find donors to support accessibility projects.”

“Accessibility means so much to our staff because we want this park to be available for everyone to experience its beauty and history”

Lynne Dominy, Superintendent
Artist's rendering of what the new amphitheater might look like
Conceptual rendering of how the amphitheater could be .configured

Friends Board Chair Erica Peterson said, “We feel fortunate to have donors, and a park, who embrace the need to share the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and help “Friends” leverage public and private funds to further steward the park’s future.”

“The amphitheater sits at the heart of the Apostle Islands. ‘Friends’ is excited to secure the benefits of this enduring national lakeshore for all.”

erica peterson, friends board chair

The new amphitheater is funded by $55,000 in grants and private contributions to Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore’s wilderness accessibility fund.

1:1 matching grant funding was made possible through a 2019 Outdoor Foundation Challenge Cost Share Program which supports NPS mission-related projects that align with the goals of local partners.  This project was one of 20 chosen from 97 applications.  The Outdoor Foundation is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and growing future generations of outdoor leaders in partnership with the National Park Service and Wisconsin Coastal management.

Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office for Coastal Management under the Coastal Zone Management Act, Grant #NA17NOS4190035 initially funded the schematic drawings that started the project.

OUTDOOR FOUNDATION

What is next to do?

  • Raise funds for an appropriate weather shelter
  • Install an interpretive sign
  • Continue developing appropriate accessibility features at Stockton beyond a campsite, ramps, and amphitheater

We look forward to providing updates on this project and to a potential grand opening celebration later this summer. We invite you to get involved with Friends of the Apostle Islands to make this – and other exciting accessibility projects – happen in the park. Those plans include improving access at Meyers Beach, Little Sand Bay and Sand Island.